(1172) Motacilla maderaspatensis Gmelin.
THE LARGE PIED WAGTAIL.
Motacilla lugubris maderaspatensis, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. iii, p. 263.
Motacilla maderaspatensis, ibid. vol. viii, p. 660.
This fine Wagtail is found over practically the whole of India, from Ceylon to an elevation of at least 4,000 feet in the Himalayas, and from Bombay and the Punjab in the West to Western Bengal and Bihar in the East. It does not appear to breed in Sind, unless casually, nor does it occur in the East as far as Eastern Bengal, though it breeds quite commonly in Bihar.
This is one of our Indian birds which was as well known in Hume’s time as it is now. It is a most familiar little bird and seems to seek rather than avoid humanity. There is little one can add to Hume’s summary of its breeding habits. He writes :—“They always nest in the neighbourhood of water, but, with this sole reservation, they place their nests almost anywhere. These may be found in holes in banks, crevices in rocks, under stones, under clods of earth, amongst the timber of bridges, in drains, holes in walls, on roofs, and in fact anywhere except on shrubs or bushes. The nests are always down on something solid, and that is about all that can be said.
“In the middle of the River Jumna, at Agra, there is an iron buoy attached to the pontoon bridge, which is surmounted by an iron ring, and in this ring for successive seasons a pair of Pied. Wagtails nested, within 5 yards of the roadway and in full view of the thousands of passengers who daily cross the bridge. In the Chumbal, a little above its junction with the Jumna, a pair built in the clumsy old-ferry boat which was but seldom used, and when the female was sitting she allowed herself to be ferried backwards and forwards, the male all the while sitting on the gunwale singing, making from time to time short jerky flights over the water and returning fearlessly to his post.
“In this latter ease the nest was nothing but one of those small circular ring-pads, say 4 inches in external diameter, and an inch thick at the circumference, which the women place on their heads to enable them to carry steadily their round-bottomed earthen water-vessels ; a dozen tiny soft blades of grass had been laid across the central hole, and on these, of course bending them down to the surface of the massive boat-knee on which the pad had accidentally been left lying, the egga were laid.
“The character and materials of the nest are quite as various as are the situations in which it is placed ; as to character it varies from nothing (for they will lay in a tiny depression on the bare, earth) up to a neat well-formed saucer or cup ; as to the materials, nothing tolerably soft seems to come amiss to them ; fine twigs, grass-roots, wool, feathers, horse-, cow and human hair ; string, coir, rags, and all kinds of vegetable fibers seem to be indifferently used.”
Among other curious places recorded by other collectors as sites for the nest may be noted the following :—
“In the Saharunpore District on the flat roofs of the canal chokies, or in the small ventilating holes in the wall” (G, F. L. Marshall).
“At Futtegurh their favourite place seems to be the bridge of boats. The nest is usually built inside a ‘pigeon-hole’ either at the stem or bow of a boat” (A. Anderson).
Many nests have been reported as having been built in holes in walls of wells, sometimes at considerable depths.
In Poona E, Aitken “found a nest on the. 17th April on one of the barrels of the boat-club floats.” This was in the late sixties of 1800, and curiously enough on the 4th April, 1923, Mr, T. R. O’Donnell also took a neat of this Pied Wagtail "on a barrel of the raft at the boat-club in Poona.”
Betham, it should be added, found them breeding at Poona in more normal situations, “building solid compact nests, usually well concealed, under boulders and atones in the small islands which abound in the river.”
As regards the size of the nest, all that can be said is that in most cases the inner cup is a neat, fairly well finished-off structure some 3 to 4 inches in diameter and from 1 to 1.1/2 inch in depth. The outer dimensions may be anything. Mr, D. F. S. McArthur sent me one clutch of eggs of which the nest was "a pile of dead leaves, possibly wind-blown, a couple of feet across, with a depression at the top lined with wool and hair” ; on the other hand it may be, as Hume has said, not measurable or non-existent.
The normal breeding season is March, April and May, but a few birds also breed in February and June, while in September Betham found fresh eggs at Poona and Butler took a neat at Aboo. Carter, writing from the banks of the Cauvery, informed Hume that he had taken eggs in December and January.
Four is the number of eggs commonly laid, three occasionally and five very rarely.
In shape they are broad ovals, sometimes a little compressed at the smaller end, but seldom really pointed.
They are of the White and Pied Wagtail type but as a series run very dark and rather brown, while an occasional clutch may be definitely of this colour. The ground is a pale grey, a few clutches having this tinged with buff or green, and the numerous markings are tiny blotches rather than stippling, the eggs seldom, if ever, appearing unicoloured. The markings, also, are generally more numerous at the larger end, where they occasionally form rings or caps.
One hundred eggs average 21.9 x 16.2 mm. : maxima 23.9 x 16.5 and 23.1 x 17.3 mm. ; minima 20.4 x 15.9 and 22.3 x 15.1 mm.
The texture is, as usual, glossless.
Both birds help in building the nest, but the female alone carries on incubation, the male generally keeping close to the nest and often sitting on some prominent stone or other perch close to it.
1172. Motacilla maderaspatensis
(1172) Motacilla maderaspatensis Gmelin.